There has been an outbreak of new Wuhan coronavirus in China infecting more than 800 residents and killing around 26. The virus is also spreading around the world, including Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan and the United States.
Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a respiratory tract virus, suspected to have emerged from Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China. The largest city in central China (Hubei province) with a population of 11 million saw the outbreak last month, and the market has been closed since January 1, 2020, for disinfection. It is feared that the coronavirus may take the shape of an epidemic as hundreds of millions of people travel to China to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday.
The coronavirus belongs to a large family of viruses, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The name derives from the crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus, and it affects small mammals like bats and pigs. Chinese krait and Chinese cobra can take up the virus from bats, and these snakes, sold in the local seafood market, are suspected to be the source of infection. The virus mutates quickly and thus can leap from animals to humans, then from human to human. However, the virus’ adaptation to both warm-blooded and cold-blooded hosts is still a mystery.
The Wall Street Journal reports, “Seven strains are known to infect humans, including the virus in Wuhan. They can be spread by coughing, kissing or making contact with saliva.” Cough, sore throat, headache, fever, pneumonia are common symptoms.
People with weak immune systems, the young and the elderly are most vulnerable and may develop more severe respiratory tract illness. In China, the number of confirmed cases rose to 830. In the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak in Asia, around 8000 people were infected, of which 800 died, according to WHO. However, the mortality rate of the Wuhan virus is about 3%, and the patients who have succumbed to it are mostly above 60 years and had other health complications like Parkinson’s and diabetes.
As per the reports, “China’s Finance Ministry said it had allocated 1 billion yuan (Dollar 145 million) to support Hubei province in its fight to contain the outbreak. The city of Wuhan is also building a new 1,000-bed hospital to treat the infected and plans to have the facility operational by early next week.”
Eight cities of China are under lockdown, transportation in Wuhan has been stopped, airport and train stations are temporarily shut and refunds provided. Wearing of masks has been made mandatory, people are being advised to wash hands frequently, avoid crowds, public gathering, contact with people having fever or cough. Health officials have started increased screening of people at worldwide airports.
WHO has not labelled the outbreak as a global public health emergency. Didier Houssin, chairman of an emergency committee that studied the outbreak, said, “It’s too early to consider that this event is a public health emergency of international concern.”
While, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhamom Ghebreyesus said, “This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one.”
However, the death toll is still rising, ground zero being the worst affected. Scientists are working on new research for specifically combating the virus, though antivirals ready-for-the-market are being used at present.